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Posted by David Reed on 08/08/2020

American Overseas Airlines

American Overseas Airlines started life in April of 1937 as American Export Airlines. American Export Lines was the leading US-flag shipping company from 1919 to 1977, operating cargo ships and passenger service. In 1937 they started American Export Airlines to complement their shipping passenger service. Using a PBY-4, AEA conducted route surveys across the Atlantic from New York to Europe. They began service with three Sikorsky VS-44 flying boats.

Pan American Airways objected strongly, for they had always been the premier US overseas carrier, but the CAB and President Roosevelt felt that PAA needed some competition.  AEA was granted the NY to Lisbon route using the VS-44.

AEA survey routes were the reason the USAAF chose AEA to operate the Air Transport Command’s C-54’s from the US to North African bases in 1944. This was expanded to include flights to England later that year, providing invaluable experience in long range passenger flying. The VS-44 flying boats went away soon after. With the war in Europe over, AEA applied for civil transatlantic routes from the CAB. The CAB did not object to the idea, for AEA’s transatlantic 4-engine landplane experience was commendable, but they did not want an airline controlled by a shipping company. At the same time, American Airlines wanted to get into the transatlantic passenger business. American Airlines contacted AEA and a deal was struck. The CAB approved the purchase of AEA by American on July 5th, 1945. The name was changed to American Overseas Airline, a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines.

Using surplus C-54’s, AA/AOA began its transatlantic venture on October 26th 1945 using seven C54/DC4 aircraft from New York to Boston, Gander, Shannon and London. Eight months later AOA began replacing them with seven pressurized Lockheed 049’s. While parent company American went with the Douglas DC6, American Overseas chose the L049 for its superior range. Business boomed, so in 1949 AOA began replacing the L049’s with ten new Boeing 377 Stratocruisers, the third customer for the new Boeing. Clearly AOA was pursuing PanAm and TWA for transatlantic business. AOA offered daily flights from New York Idelwild to London through Shannon, with non-stops on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (winds permitting). After London, Stratocruisers continued to Amsterdam or Frankfurt. Constellations continued to operate in 1949 to Shannon, then on to Copenhagen or Stockholm. Stratocruiser flights offered gourmet meals and free cocktails on their flights.

The Stratocruiser proved to be AOA’s undoing though. Uneconomical to operate, American decided to sell the money-losing Overseas division and their eight Stratocruisers (the number actually delivered) in order to focus on domestic operations. Except for Mexico City and Toronto, American was strictly domestic. On September 25, 1950,  PanAm acquired American Overseas Airlines which was completely absorbed into PanAm’s Atlantic division. American Airlines wouldn’t return to London until 1990 when they bought London-US routes from TWA.


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